Returning to the Drum Set
Due to the nature of the instrument, drummers do not always have the time or space to practice drums. Many individuals find that returning to the drum set after an extended period of time is a challenge. Things just don't feel right. The sticks feel foreign in the hands. Nothing grooves. Timekeeping? More like time-loosing.
I have just finished a nine month break from drumming to focus on my research as a computer scientist and start my training as a Crossfit athlete. My body has changed significantly since I started training - I've gained 15 lbs and and my hands are used to pull up bars, dumb bells, and dead lifting. It really feels awkward to hold drum sticks at all. My grip is totally different. I tried to practice a few times over the past few months, but everything felt so foreign that I gave up after a few minutes each time. I knew I would get back into it, but I also knew that it would be a process, so I put it off. Now, I'm ready and committed to getting back into the 20 hour per week practice routine - no excuses!
If you haven't been practicing and have lost your groove, here are some ideas to get things moving as soon as possible.
Take Things Slowly
It is important to remember to take all of these things slowly. Do not try to jump in on a gig without at least a few hours of practice. You will be frustrated and nothing will feel right. More importantly, all of the exercises below should be taken at a slow tempo initially. Everything should be as effortless and natural as possible. The muscles and tendons in your body need to start working together in these refined motions again. Trying to crank out some fast paradiddles on your thigh isn't going to do the trick. You need to take things gradually and allow your mind and body to start working coherently.
Powerlifters do not try to bench their top weight early in the day. They spend time working up to their top weight to avoid injury and to get their nervous system amped up. Learn from these athletes and let your body gradually re-acclimate to the drum set.
Start on the Pad
What I like to do is start off on the pad. Singles, doubles, paradiddles, whatever rudiments you like. If you like Moeller motions, push-pull, etc, now is the time to start bringing those back into your awareness. I like to start each at a slow, natural tempo, and hold it there until it feels absolutely effortless. When things start to feel loose and easy, switch to another rudiment, or work on the same thing a bit faster. The idea is to take things slowly and let your mind relax into the motions. Do not force anything to happen.
Take Frequent Breaks
Typically, I will work on one motion for about 5 or 10 minutes, then take a break. I find that I can play faster after resting. I'll then switch motions and try something different. The neurons in your brain will continue to realign themselves while you go do something else. It's a very interesting feeling to come back to the pad and be able to play better than you could just a few minutes ago.
The next thing to do is to pull out your copy of Stick Control. Stick Control is the ultimate conditioning book for drummers. It's just like weight lifting for football players, or sprints for basket ball players. It's a great way to start re-training your brain for coordination.
Pick up where you last left off - there is no reason to re-do any exercises you have already done if you are trying to make progress in this book. Otherwise, choose something you know that will be a moderate challenge. Again, start slowly and take lots of breaks. Try and finish just a few exercises. You will feel your mind settle into the strange coordination zone as you start to focus on the unusual sticking patterns.
Donny Gruendler's Time and Feel Drills
Donny Greundler, an instructor at Musician's Institute, has posted the most useful set of exercises I have ever worked. I revisit these drills at least once a week when I feel that I am losing my deep pocket.
All of these drills are fantastic. However, pay special attention to the second video on "Time Development." This involves a very, very simple pattern played across the drum kit at . . . 45 beats per minute. It is absolutely critical that you work at this tempo, because it will train your mind to pay attention to the most fundamental levels of detail in your time.
Unlike the other drills I've outlined, this should be done for extended periods of time without stopping. Try it for 5 minutes first, then 10 or even 20 minutes without breaking your focus. This is absolutely essential, because it is the state of awareness you are training in this drill, not your chops. You need to practice this for extended periods of time without stopping to reap the full benefits and restore your drummer brain!
Play Alongs or Band Practice
At this point, it is appropriate to start playing music. It should feel really, really good to have everything moving again.
Drumming is a State of Consciousness, So Maintain Your Practice Routines
As you can see, it takes quite a bit of effort to bring your brain back into the drum zone. This is why it is so important to maintain daily practice routines. For me personally, I find that I progress the most quickly when I practice for 20 hours a week. Any less than that and I am spending time "catching up" almost every day. There is absolutely no reason why you can't at least warm up for 15 minutes daily - and this will make a HUGE difference when it comes time to actually sit down and play.